When Aaron Hernandez became a murder suspect—and news emerged of previously unreported incidents during his time at Florida—journalists naturally turned to his former Gators coach for comments on Hernandez's "checkered" past. But Urban Meyer wasn't having it.
Through a public records request, we've obtained reporters' emails to Ohio State's athletics department, all looking for a statement from or an interview with Meyer. You can read the requests below. They were handled by assistant SID Jerry Emig, OSU's football media gatekeeper, and nearly all of them were dismissed with a terse "Coach prefers not to comment."
Just one of the reporters, the New York Times's Bill Pennington, didn't take no for an answer. Three days after getting shut down with a no comment, Bennington replied to Emig, this time appealing to the heart:
I wanted to double back and see if Coach Meyer was willing to talk about Aaron Hernandez's plight now that he has been charged with murder. From what I've read, Coach Meyer was pretty close to Hernandez and counseled him directly as a young man. As someone who influenced his life for those few years, I thought the coach might feel the need to express some of his sentiments as he watches Aaron go through these difficult times.
"These difficult times." Pff.
Though reporters trying the front door weren't able to get anything from Meyer, the coach exchanged text messages on July 6 with reporters at the Columbus Dispatch and Gainesville Sun. In them, he denied reports that Hernandez had failed drug tests and that the university had had a hand in Hernandez's avoiding charges in a 2007 assault, and he called it "wrong and irresponsible" to blame Florida for Hernandez's murder charges.
Though the two newspapers published the meat of Meyer's quotes, reporters began hitting up Ohio State to get their hands on the text messages themselves. The motivation, apparently, was to avoid having to credit the Dispatch and the Sun. The Associated Press's Ralph Russo to Jerry Emig:
Is there any chance you could convince coach to either send to me, or allow you to send to me the text he sent to Gainesville and Columbus?... Just so you know, we're not making big news of this just reporting what Urban said and we will do so regardless of whether we have the quotes provided to us. We'll credit the other papers otherwise.
Our absolute favorite request, though, comes from Rusty Miller, the AP's Ohio sports editor. Miller figures that if he can get Meyer on the phone, he might as well kill two birds with one stone.
I was hoping Urban might offer a comment on the Aaron Hernandez situation. I know that he was close to him.
Along the same lines, our Patriots writer is working on a story on the tight end position. He wondered if Urban might also offer a very brief comment on whether Tim Tebow, to get on the field, might also have the aptitude and talent to help out New England at that position.
Here's the full collection of reporters' emails.
Additional reporting by Doug Brown.